While not known for featuring many other artists on his own material – aside from such luminary live musicians as Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Anna Wise, etc. – Kendrick Lamar’s profile as one of hip-hop’s most talented figures has kept him in demand by other rappers and artists for years. With this in mind, I decided to try and corroborate a few of his most notable collaborations.
Note: There were plenty more I could’ve mentioned, everything from K. Dot’s appearance on “Holy Key” by DJ Khaled, or his freestyle over “Backwards” by Tame Impala from the Spider-Man OST, but this is the best of the best, I think.
8) Jay Rock – “Hood Gone Love It” (2011)
Anyone familiar with Grand Theft Auto V will be familiar with this track, courtesy of Lamar’s Black Hippy bandmate Jay Rock, which paints a positive picture of life in their neighbourhood as being like one big garden party. Kendrick continues the flow, about making the best of life in their community, to rap about his ability (“From Compton to Baltimore I’ma kill it”), his domicile (“The public house, the plastic couch of a section 8 tenant”), and his car (“The Regal window is tinted / The air conditioner broke / But I’m cool enough to ensure you my ride is an Eskimo”). For one of his earliest breakout collaborations, it’s clear that Kendrick had the potential from early on.
7) Chris Brown – “Autumn Leaves” (2014)
One of Chris Brown’s most sentimental and open-hearted songs may not seem like the perfect platform for a rap verse, but following on from minimal percussion, delicate guitar parts, and Brown’s devotional vocals, Kendrick Lamar enters with a Titanic analogy and proceeds to bury any doubt about his place in this track. A weight of emotion behind lines such as “when thugs cry, do you hear them Lord?” gives way to a veritable essay on regret and redemption, “And they won’t let me live / even when remorse that I give / when they gon’ rejoice and forgive / tell me how I stay positive”, and the message rings long after the track is finished.
6) Dr Dre – “Genocide” (2015)
When hip-hop icon and LA hit-maker Dr Dre returned in 2015 for his third (and possibly final) album Compton, in the wake of the blockbuster NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, it goes without saying that he could’ve gotten any rapper or MC he wanted to appear in the tracklisting. The third track in, “Genocide”, proves that they don’t come much more sought-after than Lamar, and a flawless verse (“I say “F*ck is up?”, I fuck ’em up, your supper’s up or something’s up / I hoping all get orthotist, rope it before the double Dutch broke”), attests to this.
5) A$AP Rocky – “F**kin’ Problems” (2013)
As far as mob-handed braggadocio anthems go, it’s hard to find anything as iconic as the lead single from A$AP Rocky’s 2013 album LONG.LIVE.A$AP. Rocky, Drake, and 2 Chainz all come in with their distinctive styles through the song’s four-minute runtime, but it’s Lamar’s verse which steals the show, and it’s hard to argue with lines like “Got your girl on my line, world on my line / The irony, I f*ck ’em at the same damn time”. Kendrick brings up his Halle Berry-referencing from “Money Trees” before closing the door on another all-star collab.
4) Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me” (2014)
Squelchy basslines, frenetic percussion, and jazzy piano chords provide a luscious backdrop for Kendrick to dominate this entire track by celebrated electronica producer Flying Lotus. The jazz-soul tone elevates Kendrick and his rapid-fire delivery, as quarries philosophy and personal self-image to produce bars like “Reminisce on my wonder years and I wonder here / Sentiments of my words ain’t been so sincere / The sentiment of my nerves that I just persevere”. Released a full year before To Pimp A Butterfly, it’s possible this reflective tone could have influenced the album which earned Lamar a shedload of Grammy nominations and elevated him to superstardom, and his skill remains uncontested to this day.
3) Danny Brown – “Really Doe” (2016)
Atrocity Exhibition, the 2016 effort by boundary-pushing rap artist Danny Brown, was notable for its unorthodox sound and characteristically provocative tone. “Really Doe”, the album’s biggest single, at first glance has more in common with the hard-nosed ringing quality of “Backseat Freestyle” from Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, and this is perhaps why Lamar is able to make the track his own. Despite some impressive flows from Brown, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick delivers the hook, before bringing his world-beating ability to the track and slaying it – “bet a thousand, shoot a thousand / things a n*gga do for thousands / made a million counting sheep / gave it all to public housing”.
2) Dr Dre – “Deep Water” (2015)
Los Angeles, the sun-blessed city by the sea, produced both Dr Dre and Kendrick, so their pairing on the nautically-themed “Deep Water” off 2015 blockbuster Compton makes perfect sense, even more so as the track grows. Detailing the harsh realities of his city, including the gang violence and high-risk lifestyle (“where them sharks at n*gga, down in the deep water” raps Dre), Kendrick lays into a series of hostile bars, shifting into his fluctuating, distressed delivery halfway through for lines like “I don’t give a f*ck about your whereabouts, all I care about is wearing out your area and airing out your upper body”. From start to finish, every word paints a vivid, self-aware image of inner-city turmoil and brutality, proving once again Kendrick’s raw ability to present his work in the most intense fashion.
1) Big Sean – “Control” (2013)
It’s an established custom that, if an emcee gives you a guest spot on his song, you leave any grievances or beef at the door. Kendrick apparently never heard about this, so in 2013, at the age of 26, when invited by Big Sean to appear on his non-album single “Control”, Kendrick dropped a verse which sent the art form into a meltdown.
Almost a year after the release of his second album, Lamar seemingly still had something to prove, and over the course of a few minutes, not only declared himself the “King of New York” (he’s from California), but also stated in no uncertain terms that “Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller / I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you n*ggas / Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n*ggas / They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n*ggas”. This act of lyrical homicide inspired a wave of diss tracks, controversy, and a 510% rise in Lamar’s Twitter followers: there’s no question that it’s one of the standout moments of Lamar’s career, and solidified the young rapper’s reputation as somebody to avoid messing with. He hasn’t appeared on a Big Sean album since.
Josh Will Eden